Book Review: The Paleo Diet

The Paleo Diet: Revised Edition
By Loren Cordain
John Wiley & Sons (2011)
Reviewed by Holly R. Layer, RD

Claims:

The idea of ‘paleolithic eating’ emerged in the 1970s after research by a gastroenterologist and was first popularized by Loren Cordain, in his initial 2002 book. This revised edition includes updated research and slightly different recommendations for types of oils to consume, saturated fat and the increased benefit of the Paleo diet for those with autoimmune diseases.

Cordain writes that our “genes determine our nutritional needs,” and that our “genes were shaped by selective pressures of our paleolithic environment.” Thus, we are healthier when we eat the way our ancient hunter-gatherer ancestors did. In fact, Cordain claims that indigenous peoples were almost disease and ailment-free, citing that while hypertension is the greatest risk to Americans, the Greenland Eskimoes, studied in the 1960s and 1970s, were found to be free from heart disease despite their diet high (60%) in animal foods. Cordain calls becoming lean and fit like our ancestors “our birthright.”

Synopsis of Diet Plan:

Cordain lays out the six ‘ground rules’ for the Paleo Diet, which are based on a ‘Stone Age’ diet: ‘Eat lots of lean meats, fresh fruits and vegetables.’ Cereals/grains, legumes, dairy and processed foods are out. Seven ‘keys’ of the diet elaborate on the foundation of the diet, addressing protein and carbohydrate intakes, fiber, fat, potassium and sodium, pH and vitamins and minerals.

Understanding that many readers may balk at the thought of omitting so many staples of their current diet, Cordain provides three ‘levels’ for those attempting to go Paleo: an ‘entry’ level in which three meals a week are non-paleo, a ‘maintenance’ level in which two meals per week are non-paleo, and the ‘maximal weight loss’ level in which only one meal per week is non-paleo.

While the book and eating plan themselves are not primarily focused on weight-loss, Cordain all but guarantees that adopting a paleo eating plan will promote weight loss, and dedicates a chapter to weight-loss success stories.

Nutritional Pros and Cons:

Cordain compares both a Paleo diet and the typical American diet side-by-side to see how they stack up on the Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs). Unsurprisingly, the paleo meals—including Atlantic salmon, spinach salad, pork chops and steamed broccoli—outranked provided more than 100% in every category, while the American provided more than 80% in only seven of the 22 categories.

The book includes exercise recommendations and a ‘user’s manual,’ that includes information about eating and shopping for wild game meat and fish, the difference between and beneficial ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats in nuts and seeds, as well as helpful hints for dining out or traveling.

The book does address the acid-base loads of foods, and encourages readers to eat more alkaline foods as our typical diets contain more acidic foods that tax our kidneys. This may be too confusing a concept for most readers and remains to be proven as beneficial to our health.

Bottom Line:

While the book’s 25-page bibliography of references is extensive, there are no footnotes or easy way to cross-reference the particular study that corresponds to a particular claim. The Paleo Diet is as faddish a diet as they come, omitting not one but two entire food groups. However, a paleo eating style does promote the consumption of lean meats, healthy fats and plenty of fruits and vegetables, at the very expense of junk and processed foods. Admittedly, both food groups on the chopping block—grains and dairy—are not vital in our diets (as we can get all the vitamins, minerals, fiber and even calcium from fruits and vegetables), and often make up most of the less-nutritious foods we eat, such as crackers or cakes or sweetened yogurts. Readers should be encouraged to adopt some of the healthy principles in the book, either by trying one of the outlined diet ‘levels’ or by simply allowing ‘real’ food to crowd out sweetened grains and dairy (and other processed foods) on their plates.

This book contains approximately 75 recipes and three sample two-week meal plans.

 

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